A seal slaughter in Canada has been cancelled!
The Huffington Post reports that the annual hunt on Hay Island was called off. The seals of Hay Island were spared last year as well. The Hay Island hunt usually kills a few hundred seals each year, out of the hundreds of thousands bludgeoned to death off the Newfoundland coast.
A spokesman for the hunters said that they had suspended the hunt because of low market demand for seal pelts. The president of the Canadian Seals Association agreed: “Right now we’re in a situation where we don’t have very many markets.” He added, “if there is no market, no buyers, there’s not much point in taking the seals.” It is comforting to learn that the killers weren’t bashing in the heads of helpless baby seals just for fun — it was just for money.
The targeted seals really are babies. “Hunters are permitted to kill seal pups when they start to moult their downy white fur at around 12-15 days. As a result many of the seals are only babies that haven’t even eaten their first solid meal or taken their first swim.” 98% of the seals killed are less than three months old.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Seal Hunt
Here’s how the hunt works, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog:
“For six to eight weeks each spring, the ice floes of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the eastern coast of Newfoundland and Labrador turn bloody, as some 300,000 harp seal pups, virtually all between 2 and 12 weeks old, are beaten to death—their skulls crushed with a heavy club called a hakapik—or shot. They are then skinned on the ice or in nearby hunting vessels after being dragged to the ships with boat hooks. The skinned carcasses are usually left on the ice or tossed in the ocean.
“Thousands of other wounded pups (estimates range from 15,000 to 150,000 per year) manage to escape the hunters but die later of their injuries or drown after falling off the ice (pups younger than about 5 weeks cannot swim).”
Growing international opposition to these slaughters is drying up demand for seal products. Activism has finally led to governments around the world taking action. Perhaps most important is the Russian Federation’s 2011 decision to prohibit importing seal products from Canada, because it was one of the largest markets for the Canadian hunters’ grisly products according to CTV News. (Harp Seals, however, offers government statistics showing that Norway is by far the biggest importer, and it still actively defends Canadian hunts.)
The Russian Federation’s ban followed the adoption of a similar ban in the European Union in 2009. The United States outlawed trade in seal products way back in 1972. The international bans were a seminal coup for the friends of seals because, unlike appeals to the hunters’ hypothetical basic decency, they hit the hunters where they lived — in their wallets.
A long and active history of protests led up to those bans. Going back to the 1970s, “images of fuzzy white seal pups were everywhere as activists fought to end the seal hunt in Canada.” In the 1980s, activism continued, with the International Fund for Animal Welfare calling for a boycott on Canadian seafood. During that time, Canada banned vessel-based seal hunting, which made a big dent in the number of seals massacred, but the motivation was to give the seal population time to recover after hunting dramatically lowered their numbers. The plan was still to resume the killing in time.
Soon the ban on vessel-based hunting was lifted, apparently because of arguments that seals were devastating the populations of certain species of fish, especially cod. Activists went back to work educating the public about the killing and lobbying public officials.
The hunters’ refusal to stop massacring seals because it is the right thing to do has been stubborn and lasting. They have had the backing of Canada’s government, even though most Canadians opposed funneling their tax dollars to subsidize this bloody industry.
The Hay Island slaughter is a drop in the bucket of seal blood Canadian hunters shed each year, but it is a sign that the tide may be turning against the industry.
Photo credit: iStockphoto